It's the news so many of us hoped we'd never hear. All New Routemasters across London are switching to be front boarding only.
Since August last year, TfL has trialled boarding all passengers via the front door on the number 8 bus route. It has calculated that it can save £3.6m annually from fare dodgers who furtively board the middle and back doors of the three-door vehicles, without tapping in. Fare evasion on New Routemasters, says TfL, is more than double the rate of other London buses.
Boarding using the middle and rear doors on all New Routemasters will now be phased out entirely, starting with the routes 55 and 267 on 25 January. An exception will be made to the new rule for customers with wheelchairs and pushchairs, who can still board through the middle doors.
TfL claims that the trials have shown "no adverse effect on service efficiency". It also claims that the changes "will... make using buses in London simpler for all, as boarding arrangements... will now be the same as on other London buses."
From personal experience, we beg to differ. The three-door option of the New Routemasters helps speed up the boarding of a busy bus. Having three doors also means you don't have to shift about as much at a busy bus stop, which has multiple buses lining up — and can change where the front of the queue is at any given moment. As with other buses, there will now be one big queue/mass of people, rather than three smaller, more manageable lines. So it seems disingenuous of TfL to claim this move will better the customer experience for everyone. Although, as it also says "the current system... means that customers with accessibility needs cannot always board buses first." That aspect of the changes, at least, is positive.
The great irony is that New Routemasters were flogged to Londoners by the former mayor, on merit of easy boarding. While the open platform/conductors were done away with years ago, at least the remaining three-door system was still an improvement on other London buses. We're going to miss you, back door.